Friday 6 May 2016

By Adan Hujale

Maryann, aged 20 was born and brought up in Ajawa. Her community holds strong cultural beliefs and practices and anybody going out of the norm is considered to be deviant. In January 2015, Maryann lost her first born child as a result of complications during the postnatal period. Soon after her child’s death, Maryann conceived again and in February 2016 she defied all odds and became the first woman to deliver in a health facility in Ajawa.

Maryann says: “I got married at the age of 18 years as is common for girls in my community. I got pregnant and gave birth at home with support from a traditional midwife. After delivery, my son fell ill and I consulted the traditional midwife for support. She advised me to use some herbal medicine and also called religious leaders to pray for my baby. Unfortunately, my son’s situation worsened and on the 20th day, he died.”

Explaining some of the cultural beliefs that have slowed down the uptake of maternal and newborn health services, Maryann says: “In my community, a woman is not allowed to stand in front of men and express herself, men are regarded as more important in all aspects and women are less important. If you are pregnant, your baby can only be delivered by traditional birth attendants, It is a taboo for a woman to be touched by a man and during pregnancy women cannot be examined by male health worker.”

“A few months after the death of my first born, I got pregnant again. I was still mourning the loss of my son, and I could not stop worrying that that my second born child will also die. One day, a community health worker visited me and educated me on the danger signs to look out for during pregnancy. She also taught me the importance of visiting a clinic when pregnant and advised me to consider delivering in hospital as it was safer than delivering at home. She taught me how to take care of myself during pregnancy and after delivery. When she talked to me about caring for the baby after birth, I remembered what my child went through and realised that his death could have been prevented if I had delivered in hospital,” says Maryann

Through the UKAid MNH programme, Save the Children trained 13 Community Health Committees (CHCs),10 Community Health Units and 17 Community Health Volunteers (CHVs) in November and December 2015. After the training, the CHCs and CHVs conducted household visits to sensitize and disseminate MNH messages within the community; create demand and encourage utilization of maternal and newborn health services so as to reduce maternal and newborn mortality.

Maryann says: “The health worker took me to a health facility in Ajawa. She accompanied me whenever I visited the health facility throughout the pregnancy period. When I was in labour, she accompanied me to the health facility and I delivered my baby successfully. It was a male midwife who attended to me.”

Ajawa health facility was built in 1980, but the maternity section had poor sanitation, lacked water  and the lighting conditions were poor. Expectant mothers could not deliver in the health facility.

Through the UKAid MNH project, Save the Children in partnership with the Ministry of Health has renovated Ajawa health facility, and ensured that the maternity wing is well equipped. Maryann has become an MNH champion and encourages mothers in her community to deliver in a health facility. Since Maryan’s successful delivery in February 2016, Ajawa health facility has successfully handled seven more deliveries.

Located in the north-eastern part of Kenya, Wajir County remains among the worst places for a mother to give birth and for a child to be born and thrive. It is among the fifteen counties in Kenya with the highest mortality rates for mothers and their children. The county is predominantly inhabited by ethnic Somalis of Muslim religion. Wajir has the highest fertility rate in the country at average of 8 children per woman compared to national average of 3 children. Access to and utilization of quality MNH services is unacceptably low.

Project information:

The MNH project funded by UKAid and implemented by Save the Children in partnership with the Government of Kenya, aims to accelerate reduction in maternal and newborn mortality in vulnerable and marginalised counties in Kenya.